Recipes and Food
10 Tongue-Torching Ways to Celebrate International Hot & Spicy Food Day
We’re rounding up some of the hottest — literally and figuratively — heat-forward dishes you should definitely try at home today. Grab a glass of milk, and let’s get cooking.
The easiest and most accessible way to get your heat on in legendary style is with buffalo wings.They’re typically fried, making them calorie and fat bombs, but this recipe lets you bake them instead. Take your pick of your favorite hot sauce. I have a penchant for Crystal — it’s tangy and light — thanks to my time living in New Orleans … despite Tabasco being made not too far from the city. There are also a lot of pre-made wing sauces from which you can choose. A great way to test your courage is to buy a bunch of bottles, bake up some fried chicken tenders, and go down the line until you’re crying … tears of flavor joy.
Many of us reach for generic red pepper flakes when cooking Italian food, but why not step up your game with this versatile cayenne-type of pepper? It adds a salty, smoky element to your food that plain pepper flakes just can’t provide and is available as a paste, too. You can also use this to spice up your Arrabbiata even further or add greater depth to your go-to spicy Italian sausage and peppers recipe. This works great for sandwiches and makes me feel like I’m right back in the seasonal New York Italian festivals we have on Long Island. You can even add it to garlic and oil recipes to create new depth to the sausage, broccoli rabe, and orecchiette standby — a greasy favorite of mine, personally!
When the name literally translates into “Brother Devil,” you’d best believe it brings fire to the table. However, this popular Italian dish is often served on the milder side at restaurants, tempered by sweet tomatoes and a more cautious hand with the chili flakes. It’s actually pretty easy to make, especially if you stick to just one form of seafood as this recipe does here. However, many opt to add calamari rings, mussels, clams, and lobster to make it a warming fisherman’s feast — another reason, it’s a popular feature for the Italian Feast of the Seven Fishes — which I used to look forward to attending at my ex-husband’s aunt’s each year.
Cochinita Pibil with Pickled Red Onions and Xni Pec Salsa
I’ve written a love letter to this slow-roasted pork dish made with achiote paste, bitter oranges, onion, cumin, and more for CircleAround, and I’m not above doing it again. You can kick up the heat by using optional habanero in its preparation, too, but personally, I prefer spicing it up. I love loading it with Yucatan-style Pickled Red Onions and Xni Pec Salsa, which hilariously translates to “dog snout sauce.” The story goes that this is a nod to how your nose will be wet and runny from the Scotch bonnet or habanero peppers needed for this otherwise innocuous, pico de gallo-looking salsa. Sour cream, Greek yogurt, or a fried egg does nicely to balance it all out.
Everyone seems to be into birria tacos these days! If you’re not familiar with this hot topic, they’re essentially savory tacos where the meat is cooked stew-style as opposed to on a grill. What makes them even more extraordinary and decadent is that the corn tortillas are first dipped in the meat’s resultant consomme broth, a thin layer of cheese is sandwiched between two, and then the whole thing is fried. But wait — there’s more. Once filled, it’s then dipped into the broth yet again for a flavor bomb that is no doubt addicting.
Move over, Cantonese cuisine. The popularity of Sichuan food has been heating up in the past few years, and Mapo tofu was one of the original pioneers that introduced the American public to this cuisine style. In fact, I only tried it for the first time a couple of months ago. Many vegetarians love this dish, but it’s often made with pork, so be aware when you order it there might be meat in it. However, if you make it at home, it contains whatever you like, and that’s the beauty of it.
Don’t be intimidated by the devilish scarlet hue of the chili oil and flakes — it’s actually really not that spicy. I was really intimidated the first time I ordered these at the Krog Street Market in Atlanta, but my friend, a much more learned eater, was insistent since the purveyor, Gu’s Dumplings, was famous for them. I’m so glad I did. The chili pepper pieces are actually fried crunchy, and the sweet vinegar and aromatic garlic are stronger flavors than the spice. Make these and watch everyone be pleasantly surprised … and look cooler than expected.
When it’s cold out, what’s better than soup to stoke that inner fire you know you have in you? This recipe for hot and sour soup is pretty close to what my dad used to make for customers at his Chinese takeout, and it was a perennial favorite in the dead of a New York winter. I love it with a lot of vinegar, but prefer cranking up the heat with plenty of chili oil — if you can get it. (Instead of just the white pepper this recipe calls for.)
Usually, you’d think that red means, "stop or hot." And, green means, “go for it — it’s mild." Not necessarily the case with Thai food. Although it’s sweet, thanks to the coconut milk, the use of immature young green chili peppers actually makes it hotter than its scarlet counterpart. I learned this to my surprise, then pleasure, the first time I had it, expecting it to pack a lot less of a wallop than it did. This recipe teaches you how to make the base curry paste from scratch so you can feel as accomplished for having cooked it as for having downed it.
Vindaloo is known as one of the hottest Indian dishes around, but did you know that it’s actually influenced by the Portuguese? Its origins go back to when these sailors soaked meat in wooden barrels with a mixture of wine and garlic for preservation. This recipe omits the use of onion and tomatoes, which are used to counteract the heat, but we’re here for the fire, right? Basmati rice is an easy side for it, or store-bought pre-made naan can help you sop up every bit of the sauce.
These suggestions are only the tip of a delicious iceberg — or fiery peak — of a big, bold heat map of options.